From the time that the Roman Catholic Church took control of Europe many centuries ago, the idea of poverty equaling holiness has been accepted as truth, even among evangelical Christians. We don’t make vows of poverty and celibacy, but a general feeling exists that wealth beyond the basics for living is dirty and sinful. Most Christians pray for God to provide for an honest job and to pay their bills, and they believe that giving to the poor is a noble and spiritual act of faith. But they’ll often look at a Christian who is wealthy with suspicion, and view a church with a large expense account as greedy and unspiritual.
A friend of mine was a non-denominational pastor who couldn’t make ends meet with the offering of his church. He felt it was selfish and unethical to ask for offerings or tithes during the service, and so he would just remind his congregation that an offering box was located at the back of the church and that they were free to give whatever they felt led to give. He believed that if it was God’s will for the church to be blessed, it would happen automatically. Months would go by with barely anything dropped in the box, and he and his wife were forced to work separate jobs to provide for their family. The church membership didn’t mind, in fact they were proud of their hardworking pastor who provided for himself so they wouldn’t have to give anything. The church members never learned the power of giving by faith, the pastor and his family felt unappreciated and resentful, the church never grew, and no evangelism happened – ever. This church no longer exists today, and my friend has left the ministry. This idea of just waiting around for God to drop financial blessings into our laps without seeking or knocking or asking, is not a Biblical one. Teaching that God does want to provide and does want to give in abundance is very Biblical, which means that teaching the principles of giving to receive are necessary, just as Jesus taught.
When our church in Brazil announced its massive building project of the Temple of Solomon, the attacks came fast and furious. “Why waste so much on a fancy monument, instead of giving all that money to the poor?” “God doesn’t live in buildings, it’s wrong to spend so much when people are suffering.” “They’re just trying to show off…” Of course there have been abuses of money by churches, both Catholic and non-denominational. No one denies that greed is a big weapon that the devil uses to undermine the Kingdom of God. But does that mean all big purchases or building projects of a church are evil? Are all wealthy Christians greedy? Should every church be run out of a shack in order to remain spiritually pure?
There are a vast amount of verses that teach that we should pray for prosperity (1 Chronicles 4:10, Psalm 115:14, Psalm 118:25, 3 John 1:2, for example). There are also many that warn against the love of money, (1 Timothy 6:10, Matthew 6:24, Hebrews 13:5). But it’s the love of money that is evil – not wealth in and of itself.
Those who are quick to condemn those who pursue God’s financial blessings, shut their lives off to great lessons of faith, and an opportunity to be a testimony of God’s faithfulness. What if my pastor friend had had the courage to challenge his church to give and beleive in God’s provision? What if he’d stood on God’s promises and prayed regularly for God to provide financially for both his church members and his personal life? What if he shook off the sense of shame that inhibited him from asking for offerings? That church could be saving many souls today, he and his wife could be stronger and more blessed in their faith, the church members could have grown in their faith and the word of God would be more than just preached, but lived out as an example that God is true to His promises – that He provides and prospers.
What about that massive Temple of Solomon project that has now been open and functioning for a year and a half? Over 20,000 people worship there on Sundays alone, and many more attend every single day of the week, where the gospel is preached faithfully. People of every religion have come in curiosity to learn about the God of the Bible. The Jewish community in the country gathers regularly with our pastors to learn and share their thoughts on God. Testimonies pour in every month of people who were suffering in sickness and poverty, learned to depend on the God Who Provides, and are now healed and blessed with homes and jobs. It was their experience in the Temple of Solomon that helped them to view God in a whole new way, as enormous and powerful, and also as their Lord and Savior.
Jesus’ warning that it’s harder for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, ends with His words, “With people, nothing is possible, but with God, all things are possible.” It’s not about being wealthy or poor, it’s about the state of our hearts – where our treasure is. If a Christian has wealth, but has a heart that is set on heaven, he’ll freely give whenever God challenges him to sacrifice, because his treasure is in God, not in what he owns. God can trust him with wealth. Possessions don’t contaminate him because he’s, as Jesus says on the Sermon on the Mount, “poor in spirit.” In other words, he reacts to His word with humility and obedience, with the courage to live out his faith, and that’s the kind of poverty we all need to have.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you prosper; may there be peace within your walls, prosperity within your fortresses.” Because of my brothers and friends, I will say, “Peace be with you.” Because of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good. (Psalm 122:6-9 HCSB)